Santana’s Banana Bandana

When I was about 20, some friends and I drove out to Vegas to see the Grateful Dead. It was their first time playing Vegas in many years, and I’d never seen them live. I’m not a Deadhead by any stretch, but it sounded like an adventure, so I went.

We took a ’69 Volkswagen bus — I know it sounds cliche, but that was the guy’s ride. And yeah, we had to push-start it, like in Little Miss Sunshine.

There were maybe six or seven of us. The plan was to find the cheapest place in Vegas and rent a room for two; then everyone else would pile in and take various spots on the floor. It was all very Marx Brothers. Except for the tie-dyed shirts and stuff.

Anyway, we stopped at state line to ride the Ferris wheel. Seemed like a good idea at the time. You know, until the operator decided to mess with the kids and stop the wheel while we were at the top. Seriously, what was up with that?

After 20 minutes or so, the wheel got moving again. The operator claimed mechanical failure, but nobody bought it. Besides, we didn’t care; we had more important places to be.

We eventually arrived in Vegas and found a motel. Some random place off-off strip with eggshell-colored walls. It may have had a pool, I don’t remember. It was the sort of place whose details wouldn’t stick with you for any appreciable period of time. Like eating breakfast at Denny’s. It was the motel equivalent of Denny’s. Sure, we’ll go with that.

So, we all crammed into the room. Then we wandered around town a bit, none of us legal, none of us really digging the Vegas vibe. Mostly we said hey to other passing Deadheads who weren’t digging the Vegas vibe either.

Next morning we cruised over to Sam Boyd Stadium for the show. We parked the bus (I’d tell you about the parking lot, but I don’t have time to write a book just now) and made our way into the stadium. People had set up a makeshift volleyball court in the middle of the floor and were playing on it. First time I’d ever seen that at a concert. (My scene at the time was heavy metal shows at Long Beach Arena, where the crowds were… a little less happy, shall we say.)

One of my friends brought brownies to the show and sold them for $1 a piece. She explained up front that they were just brownies, with nothing added, but nobody believed her. Imagine their disappointment…

Carlos Santana opened the show. What I remember about his set is this: He wore a yellow bandana on his head. Santana is a terrific guitarist (if a tad repetitive at times), and I should remember more about his show than his headgear, but memory is a funny thing.

Santana’s bandana sticks in my mind because when we got back home (yes, I’ve skipped the Dead show; that’s not the point of this story, but assume it was good) I wrote an essay about it for a composition class I was taking at the time. In fact, it was the final for this class.

Professor Thompson had exposed us to all kinds of unusual literature — John Berger, Peter Elbow, Raymond Federman — and encouraged us to push traditional boundaries in our own writing. For the final, she challenged us to write something that ran in direct opposition to our normal tendencies. In my case, this meant abandoning my normal rambling “style” (you’re soaking in it) in favor of a minimalist approach.

When I say this was a final, it was really a final project. I worked on the piece over the course of an entire semester. I kept extensive notes, submitting those notes weekly and meeting with Professor Thompson several times throughout the process to discuss my progress, possible directions the work might head, and so forth.

I showed her several revisions at various points. The essay started out around three pages long. Then I got it onto a single page, then to 150 words. By the time I submitted the final version, I’d whittled it down to 70 words, using different font sizes to convey meaning.

The essay, which didn’t look anything like what I would’ve called an essay, discussed differences in perspective. It focused on a series of moments where I watched Santana through a pair of binoculars and then removed the binoculars — maybe 30 seconds worth of life — and how details that were obvious in one environment may have been misconstrued or missed entirely in another. (Hence the yellow bandana, or as I came to call it, “banana bandana” — say it with me, “Santana’s banana bandana.” Hey, I was 20, cut me some slack.)

The paper earned an A. Professor Thompson even suggested that I submit the piece for publication. It really wasn’t that good, but I appreciated her encouragement.

I also appreciated her insistence on pushing us in different directions. Federman may not seem radical nowadays, but at the time, when we were stuck reading Thackeray (and poking pencils in our eyes), he was quite the breath of fresh air.

The lessons learned from that class — question the status quo, reject lazy thinking, attempt the impossible (or at least the ridiculous) — remain with me to this day. That and Santana’s banana bandana.

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37 Responses »

  1. So we’re going to win tonite, right?


  2. I should just give you my MA in literature. I’m not using it. Nice job!

  3. And now for something completely different. I was in LV once by way of a HS ski trip. I wasn’t legal either but I knew something was up when I saw slot machines in the super markets, and hopeless mothers, kids in tow, cigarette dangling, pulling the handles.

  4. Nice, Geoff. This is like a very good head fake. I jumped a couple of time.

  5. Looks like I picked just the right time to cash in last night.

    How about a victory tonight boys? Please.

  6. Two things: (1) Ironically, the only Dead show I ever saw was at Long Beach Arena.

    (2) Have you seen/heard about Six Word Epitaphs? Supposedly inspired by someone daring Hemingway to summarize his life in six words. His (allegedly): “Take a swing at me, pussy.” I’ve come up with “Hard to imagine life without baseball” but that doesn’t quite capture it. Anyway, if you’re interested, you can see more about Six Word Epitaphs here:

  7. #2@Smitty: You are the smartest dog I know. ;-)

    #6@Brian G.:

    1) That is very funny.
    2) Uh-oh, a cool new way to waste time. Just what I need right now.

  8. OT – This is an awesome article about Andrew Brown. I’m now sad we traded him, even though Milton Bradley was awesome.

  9. GY,

    Good post but you left us in suspense … where is our link to the full essay?

  10. #9@Ryan: Well, this would’ve been ’89 or ’90 so no Internet. If a hard copy exists, it’s in a box in the garage somewhere. Quick check reveals a couple of other published pieces and the aborted novel that I keep meaning to burn, but no Santana essay…

  11. 10: Don’t burn aborted novel! Publish through Lulu!

  12. I have a completed first draft of a novel, but then discovered that I hate to rewrite. IOWs, writing off the top of my head=fun. Rewriting, forget it. Celine said writing was the equivalent to being a galley slave on a sailing ship.

    Geoff, how bout a murder mystery based around a ball club. Call it, A Minor League Murder.

  13. 12: Who killed the batboy?

    OT: this just in, Steve Garvey is a Dodgers, JoePoz said so.

  14. Geoff, I have a feeling I should know Professor Thompson, but I’m not coming up with anything. What is her first name?

  15. It took a 915 word blog post to tell us about a 70 word essay ….. ?

    /scratches head

  16. My favorite part of the banana was where ProfessorT starts as a she and ends as a he.

    Too good to be planned.

  17. #11@Phantom: Thanks, but it’s quite dreadful.

    #14@Pat: Unfortunately I don’t remember. She was a part-timer.

    #15@Farquaad: LOL, thanks for counting. You should have seen the notes I took for that essay — dozens of pages.

    #16@TomC: ?

  18. #16@TomC: I believe Raymond Federman is a “he” but I’m not sure what banana you’re looking at.

  19. Are we going to do this after every lose?

  20. Could be worse PM, we could have written about having Pancakes for dinner like some other bloggers.

  21. Ah, thanks Geoff. That would explain why I wasn’t recognizing the name (it’s just now when I can’t remember things like that I automatically assume it’s my failing memory :-) ).

  22. 20: I think that’s what Bud told Germano when he went and got him from the mound in Houston. “I think you are done. Go on with your pancakes dinner.”

  23. Funny stuff, really. As a little leaguer so long ago, I remember that stuff.

    Why does coach always smell like a beer?

  24. Geoff, you might have guessed that I was in Vegas for those shows, as well. Oddly enough I do not recall the yellow bandana. I DO recall sitting on the ground for nearly the entirety of Sunday’s show, examining a single blade of grass in complete fascination. One can only guess what sorts of substances might have heightened said fascination.

    As a veteran of 100+ Dead shows, I sometimes wonder how I survived…

  25. Mat Latos made his 2008 debut with Fort Wayne today. He pitched 4 innings, allowed 5 hits (two doubles and three singles) and 3 runs (1 earned), and struck out 8 with no walks.

  26. #25@Lance Richardson: Did you, Lance, did you survive? Perhaps this is all a figment of your imagination. ;-)

  27. #10@Geoff Young: ’91 to be exact. April 27th or 28th, depending on whether you went to the Saturday or Sunday show.

  28. #28@TheGrandHatching: Ah, thanks. We went to the Saturday show. And now I see that I wasn’t 20, but actually a week shy of 22. Also, my name was Tejada.

  29. I can’t tell if this OffTopic of OnTopic :-)

    The San Diego Padres claimed right-handed pitcher Josh Banks off waivers on Wednesday from the Toronto Blue Jays and have assigned him to Triple-A Portland.

  30. NEWS FLASH … Latos pitched 4 innings today … 8 Ks!!! … even better was ZERO walks!!! Yowza!

  31. #27@Pat: If this is a figment of your imagination Lance, could you imagine us putting together a winning streak?

  32. #33@FriarFanDan: He’s waiting for May … like he has the past 3 seasons … Lance is a big fan of Mr May (Dave Winfield), I s’pose …

  33. OT … Tim Redding is beating Johan Santana after 4 innings …

    … oh, wait … Santana … perhaps this post is OnTopic?

  34. #29@Geoff Young: Now that was funny. May I call you Miguel?

  35. 33 & 34: Great baseball talk and great humor; yet another reason DS rocks!